Ashcroft: Immigrants can be held indefinitely
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
WASHINGTON — Illegal immigrants with no known links to terrorist groups can be detained indefinitely on national-security grounds, Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a precedent-setting ruling that became public yesterday.
Advocates for immigrants immediately criticized the decision, saying Ashcroft was using the specter of terrorism to incarcerate immigrants who pose no security risk.
It was unclear how the government would apply the ruling to cases involving undocumented immigrants on the Mexican and Canadian borders, since the attorney general's main concern seemed to involve boat people from the Caribbean.
Ashcroft's decision came in the case of David Joseph, an 18-year-old Haitian among 216 boat people who made a dramatic landing in Miami last October. With authorities in pursuit, the refugees scrambled ashore and scattered along a major roadway.
An immigration judge ruled that Joseph could be released on $2,500 bond to live with his uncle while the government decided on his application for political asylum.
That determination was upheld by the Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative panel that usually functions as the top referee in immigration cases.
The board rejected arguments by several government agencies that Joseph's release could jeopardize national security by encouraging mass migration from Haiti. But Ashcroft invoked the attorney general's prerogative to overturn board decisions.
"First, there is a concern that release of aliens (such as Joseph) would tend to encourage further surges of mass migration from Haiti by sea, with attendant strains on national and homeland-security resources," Ashcroft wrote.
"Second, in light of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there is increased necessity in preventing undocumented aliens from entering the country without the screening of the immigration inspections process," he added.
While Ashcroft made no assertion that Joseph was a security risk, he said releasing him might send the wrong signal to others wishing to come to the United States.
In addition, the State Department has warned that Haiti has become a staging point for non-Haitians considered security threats, including Pakistanis and Palestinians, to enter the United States.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company
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